ESL students in the college writing conferences

Learning Tasks

There is a lack of information regarding the preparedness of adult English language learners. The population of adult immigrants, refugees, migrant workers, and naturalized citizens studying nonacademic English as a second language in North America is large and growing. In the United States, nearly 45% of the adults enrolled nationwide in state-administered adult education programs attend English as a second language (ESL) or English literacy classes, bringing the official number of such students to approximately 1.2 million in 2003-2004. These adult learners are generally considered to range in age from 16 to 90-plus, in educational background from no formal schooling to PhD holders and in native language literacy levels from advanced to pre-literate. Their corresponding needs range equally widely, from basic literacy and/or survival English skills, to transitional classes to help them prepare for higher education in English. By contrast, ESL students in colleges and universities tend to fall into a more limited age range, can be counted on as having at least a high school-level education and a reasonably advanced level of literacy in their native language, and as college or university students, share an obvious common need for training in academic English skills. There are indications in recent years that the needs of these adult ELLs are not being fully met. Despite the best efforts of adult ESL teachers many of whom are volunteers dropout rates among adult ESL students remain a problem, and achievement is at best inconsistent (Matthews-Aydinli, 2008).

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The purpose of the learning activity is to assess the English ability of all students as well as an attempt to determine what additional needs each ESL student may require. The learning activity chosen for the small group will utilize the internet. The use of the internet will do two things, first using a tool that has become paramount in most educational, business and personal use will allow the ESL student to become more familiar with the tool and gain needed hands on experience. Secondly, the internet gives the student access to a multitude of information that too can be useful in furthering English skills. In the activity the students will translate a story in their native language into English. This exercise will allow students an opportunity to affirm word connections between their native language and English, as well as offering a quick reference tool once the assignment has been completed.

Aim of the activity

Help the ESL student to continue to build vocabulary skills while learning how to analysis his or her writing style.

The Activity

Students will find an article in his or her native language via the internet. The article found will be translated into English. In this activity the students are divided into small groups. One student in each group will locate a document in the native language of his or her group. Once the document has been located the group will translate the chosen document into English. Once the translation has been completed this translation will be utilized in the activity. Each student should have a printed copy of the English translation document. Now, students will create a vocabulary list utilizing the words in the translated document. Now students will analyze the translation, determining the words that did not translate well from their native language into English. As a group, learners discuss the patterns and word usage found in the assignment. Learners will also have the ability to build vocabulary lists when the class collaborates at the end of the activity.


Beare (2010) introduced the following activity regarding writing an essay. He states that once students have decided what they need to write about, they often have a hard time actually developing the material to include in the essay. For this reason, this lesson focuses on helping young learners discuss ideas about various characters which they can later use to help them write their essay. Students develop these using an interview format with each student taking the role of one of the main characters from a short story or book. This exercise not only helps students develop ideas for their essay, but it also encourages communication in the class room and team work.

Aim of the activity

Developing character analysis for an essay

The Activity

Interview activity; choose a short story or book which will be the basis of individual essays, or essays written in small groups. Put a list of the main characters on the board and have an equal number of students take on the role of each of these charters. Give students the handout with interview questions to fill in. Students will need a while to finish the interview sheet (you might want to introduce this lesson over two lessons with students preparing the interview sheet for homework). Create small groups of students with one student per character. Have students interview each other about the questions, encourage the students to ask for further explanation. Have students take notes of other students’ responses for a follow-up class session. Do a class session talking about the variety of responses, write down a broad selection of answers to later photocopy and give to the students to be used as notes when writing an essay.

The Interview

Learners should be given a list of questions to answer as though they were being interviewed by a magazine. Beare (2010) offers the following questions regarding this activity. What kind of music do you like? Are you married? If so, how long have you been married? Do you like being married? If you are single, do you like being single? What is the best thing that has ever happened to you? What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Who is your favorite person? Why is he/she your favorite person? Where do you like to go to relax? Why do you like to go there? How would you describe yourself? Do you have many friends? Why? If you could be anything in the world, what would you like to be? What hobbies do you have? Why do you like them? What is the best thing about life? What is the worst thing about life? Why do you do what you do in life? What would you like to change in the world?


The two activities will allow for analysis of the writing, and comprehensive ability of the ESL students. Therefore, allowing the researcher to determine how useful previous resources have been to the ESL learner. Feedback can take place on multiple levels including but not limited to peer analysis and collaboration. Varying forms of feedback have been reported to be effective; therefore the method of feedback will also need additional research to determine the most effective methods. Learners must also be allowed to apply lessons learned while continuing to build on to current and previous knowledge. Continued learning and refreshers are necessary to support adult learners.

Bitchener, J., & Knoch, U. (2009) explain that investigations into the most effective ways to provide ESL learners with written corrective feedback have often been overly comprehensive in the range of error categories examined. As a result, clear conclusions about the efficacy of such feedback have not been possible. On the other hand, oral corrective feedback studies have produced clear, positive results from studies that have targeted particular error categories. This article presents the results of a study that examined the effectiveness of targeting only two functional error categories with written corrective feedback in order to see if such an approach was also helpful for ESL writers. The ten-month study was carried out with 52 low-intermediate ESL students in Auckland, New Zealand. Assigned to groups that received written corrective feedback or no written corrective feedback, the students produced five pieces of writing (pre-test, immediate post-test, and three delayed post-tests) that described what was happening in a given picture. Two functional uses of the English article system (referential indefinite ‘a’ and referential definite ‘the’) were targeted in the feedback. The study found that those who received written corrective feedback on the two functions outperformed the control group on all four post-tests.


An assessment tool that will be utilized is a questionnaire that will be given at the beginning and the end of the class. This questionnaire will help to determine if the activities utilized impact the ESL learner’s ability concerning the English language. The questionnaire can also be utilized to see what previous tools and training were offered to the ESL learner as well as the impact of having training or the lack of previous training. SPSS data analysis software will also be utilized for statistical results.

Liu (2009) conducted research akin to the ESL research discussed previously. The findings stated that Teacher-student writing conferences are an important component in college writing courses. Coming from different cultural and educational backgrounds, many ESL students are not familiar with this practice and tend to listen to the instructor passively. Their perception of the conference may affect their interaction with the instructor. This study investigates how ESL students’ perception affects the teacher-student interaction in the writing conferences. The multiple-case study explores: ESL students’ expectations of the writing conference and factors contributing to the expectations, participation patterns of ESL students in the conferences, and ESL students’ perception of the effectiveness of teacher-student conferences. A questionnaire, distributed to 110 (65 NS and 45 ESL) students enrolled in the first-year composition classes, examines students’ previous writing experience and expectations of the writing conferences. Pre-conference interviews with 19 focus students (8 NS and 11 ESL) were conducted to verify the survey results. Students’ participation patterns were investigated via the video-recorded writing conferences of the 19 focus students. Students’ perceptions of the conference were investigated through the post conference interviews with the 19 focus students and follow-up interviews with six Chinese students.

Results of the research that Liu (2009) conducted determined that ESL students and NS students expect to receive feedback on their drafts at the writing conference. ESL students, not familiar with the dynamic feature of the conference, expected the instructor to directly tell them what to do without planning to explain their own thoughts. These student expectations were shaped by factors beyond individual preferences. ESL students’ expectations were reflected in the way they participate in the writing conferences; compared with NS students, who knew better how to “buy” the teacher feedback by asking for opinions or suggestions and announcing plans of revision, ESL students tended to be good listeners at the conference by answering questions. They seldom initiated comments and questions in the conferences. Post-conference interviews revealed that ESL students perceived the conference as effective as they received directive feedback from the teacher. It was noted that their participation was constrained by their preconceived assumption of the teacher-student relationship. The findings offer implications on how to conduct conferences to maximize students’ benefits; therefore assisting in determining methods that work with ESL learners. The research conducted by Liu helps affirm that there are instances where previous tools and training provided to ESL learners is effective, as well as the need for additional support at all levels of ESL learning.


Beare, K. (n.d.). ESL Writing Workshop 2. Retrieved from

Bitchener, J., & Knoch, U. (2009). The value of a focused approach to written corrective feedback. ELT Journal: English Language Teachers Journal, 63(3), 204-211. doi:10.1093/elt/ccn043.

Liu, Y.. ESL students in the college writing conferences: Perception and participation. Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Arizona, United States — Arizona. Retrieved September 06, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 3359771).

Matthews-Aydinli, J. (2008). OVERLOOKED AND UNDERSTUDIED? A SURVEY OF CURRENT TRENDS IN RESEARCH ON ADULT ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS. Adult Education Quarterly, 58(3), 198. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

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